By Diane Keen Fall 2017
Identifying areas for outreach and marketing is one of the most challenging aspects of IR practice development. While budget-draining projects such as paid advertising and SEO purchases are sometimes necessary, this article outlines some unique and atypical ways to make the most of your time, effort and marketing dollars.
When presenting to organizations, hospital departments or referring clinicians, be prepared to promote your entire program, as you never know what surprise opportunities may arise. For example, bariatric programs often celebrate their patients’ new, healthier outlook on life following weight loss. When asked to sponsor one of these celebrations, it was important to be sure that this was the right fit and the right venue to allocate IR marketing dollars. Other than some general diagnostic imaging, how did the bariatric program fit into current IR marketing goals? We agreed to participate because bariatric artery embolization might be in our IR department’s future, and participation would allow the IR team a chance to get to know key players in the bariatric program.
While planning the event, we discovered that most of this program’s patients were women between the ages of 30 and 50. The bariatric patient population was also the ideal UFE target audience, and, therefore, this event proved the perfect opportunity to educate women on fibroid treatment options. Our annual participation in this bariatric surgery event consistently produces an increase in UFE consultations and procedures and has led to valuable relationships, speaking engagements and increased consumer awareness.
Working closely with oncology midlevels has benefited our IO program tremendously, and we host at least two educational dinners per year. During a recent presentation for oncology nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants, discussions focused on ideal candidates for Y-90, ablation and other oncology treatments. Realizing that the attendees were almost all women and chances were good that at least one of them might have fibroids, the presenting IR took a moment to mention UFE. The oncology midlevels’ interest was piqued, not only because a few of them needed treatment for their fibroids but because they commonly see anemic patients in their transfusion centers and the cause was frequently bleeding due to fibroids. We expected the increase in interventional oncology patients following these educational dinners. The unexpected bonus was the steady stream of UFE referrals from the oncology practices.
Educating referring physicians on the ideal patients, indications and protocols for IR procedures is always time well spent. An educational breakfast with a busy spine treatment center to discuss the referral process for kyphoplasty provided an unforeseen opportunity to increase consultations for pelvic venous congestion. The physicians who treat patients in need of vertebral augmentation were also treating women suffering with chronic pelvic pain, often due to pelvic varicosities. The referring clinicians were unaware that embolization was available through our interventional radiologists, and we were unaware that their newest pain treatment physician specialized in pelvic pain. Like the oncology dinner that resulted in UFE referrals, this kyphoplasty breakfast led to an increase in pelvic congestion consultations.
These examples of unanticipated, yet successful, outreach campaigns may seem serendipitous, but they didn’t just randomly occur. Three essential components must exist for a marketing campaign to succeed and to initiate and sustain IR practice growth.
First and foremost is the IR who is willing to work during off hours, commit to speaking engagements and work tirelessly to build collaborative relationships with referring clinicians of every specialty. This champion will represent not only his or her own department, but IR as a whole. Simply put, an IR practice will not grow without at least one interventional radiologist who both understands the value of marketing and is willing to sacrifice his or her time and energy to make the program succeed. This is true no matter how much money you spend, what procedures your team promotes, or how clinically skilled you may be.
One critical element to keep in mind regarding your IR clinic infrastructure is this: if you build it, they just might come. You must ask whether your clinic can handle the influx of inquiries and requests that will result from your successful marketing and educational campaigns. Who answers the phone when potential patients call? Where does that phone ring? If you want to be certain, call your own number and find out. Or have someone “secret shop” your IR program by calling and asking very specific questions. Many IRs are surprised to learn that their educational materials show the phone number of their hospital or clinic’s centralized scheduling department, rather than someone with actual knowledge about interventional procedures. When inquiries come in that don’t fit into the scheduling department’s routine script, confusion often ensues and potential patients become lost opportunities.
Whether hospital-based or in an outpatient setting, an IR practice should consider hiring a dedicated business development or marketing specialist. Just as the practice of interventional radiology is different from diagnostic radiology, so is the marketing of IR different from marketing DR. That is, the physician liaison who excels at promoting a diagnostic imaging center may not be the right fit to represent your interventional practice.
Ideally, your business development specialist should be a valued part of your IR leadership team, participate in strategic planning meetings, and have a vested interest in the overall success of your IR program. Expertise in health care marketing, business development, media buying and placement, relationship management, community outreach, search engine optimization, and event planning are a few of the areas in which a physician would benefit from a marketing expert.
However, finding one person who can do it all isn’t easy. You may have to decide what areas of expertise are most important to your goals and consider outsourcing the rest. In some markets, community outreach and direct-to-consumer initiatives are the primary source of referrals. Those practices need someone who is willing to work evenings and weekends and who has experience in advertising, social media and event planning. For hospital-based groups where the primary source of new business is the referring physician, the marketing professional needs to have a high aptitude for learning the clinical elements of IR and be able to represent the group appropriately when communicating with your clinical colleagues.
With these key elements in place, you will have the foundation on which to build your referral base, expand your community outreach and support volume increase in your IR practice.